ANKARA (AP) â€” Kurdish rebels kidnapped a small-town mayor in southeast Turkey, relatives and officials from the mayor’s office said Thursday, the second kidnapping in three weeks as rebel attacks in Turkey have become increasingly bold.
Turkish soldiers backed by helicopters were searching the majority-Kurdish region for the mayor, who is a member of Turkey’s governing party, and the government insists on its right to cross the border into northern Iraq, where the rebels are based, if attacks continue.
Turkey has repeatedly expressed frustration with the United States and the government of Iraq for failing to root out the rebels, and has increased military operations against them in the past few months, especially in the triangle of southeastern provinces of Van, Bingol and Tunceli.
Since May, more than 50 rebels and 30 soldiers have died in the fighting in the southeast.
A group of rebels blocked a road and stopped Hasim Akyurek, mayor of the town of Yayladere, population 5,000, in Bingol province on Wednesday afternoon and pulled him from his car along with a man travelling with him just outside of the town, said Bilge Eren, an official from the mayor’s office.
The second man, Zulfu Coban, who was visiting from Germany, was released late at night and told Turkish security officials that the kidnappers were members of the autonomy-seeking Kurdish Labour Party, or PKK, Eren said.
Filiz Erdem, the mayor’s cousin, said by telephone that Akyurek was kidnapped as he returned from inspecting a construction site outside of the town. Erdem was crying as she spoke.
The motivation for the kidnapping was unclear, but it is the second abduction in three weeks by rebels. They have also been holding a Turkish soldier hostage since July 11.
A top PKK leader, Murat Karayilan, said earlier this week that he would release the soldier, Pvt. Coskun Kirandi, who was kidnapped at a roadblock as he left for his home on the Black Sea, if Turkey ended its military operations against the rebels.
Turkey has not responded to the rebel offer and has said repeatedly that it will not negotiate with the rebels, whom it considers terrorists. The United States and the European Union also consider the PKK a terrorist organisation.
Turkey says it has the right to enter northern Iraq to root out the rebels and their bases if no one else will, and the prime minister repeated his complaint that the US wasn’t doing it.
“At the moment, frankly speaking, we do not see the efforts by the US that we expect to see. We have expressed our views to that effect to the Americans,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in an interview with London’s The Times.
“There is a time limit. There is a limit to our tolerance,” Erdogan told The Times.